clues: forgot 3 days, Steve is missing, Steve’s sub is missing with all hands lost, Dr Bright did something terrible to Steve in a dream. Others have had terrible dreams. Seismic activity opened up C11, the route down the Rift where the Cyclops was lost.
The too-sweet rot of sick permeated the tiny Drone Control System room. Mills was crammed in between the large bank of controls and the wall behind him. Beside him was the trash can into which he’d vomited. He didn’t notice the smell.
Mills focused on green screens of the drone cameras, sonar, IR and LIDAR translated to something he could see and understand. Even blurred as the images were, they were crystal clear to Mills.
His hands flitted across toggles and joysticks. The fleas flexed their limbs and spun up their props.
Mills had spent months laying down nodules of wired and wireless data transmitters, so the fleas could talk to each other and to him. That mesh network had been rent. Half of his work was gone. No obvious signs of what had happened.
"In 3 days? 3 days?” Mills murmured.
He set a few drones through automated repairs of the network, and drove the rest around, looking. Headed two towards C11. In the meantime he had one zoom in on a former mesh network node.
(Investigate the mesh network through the drones roll)
It looked as though something had flowed over the mesh and wiped it away. There were some smoothed-over microbolt remains where it had been attached. They were designed to come out cleanly if pulled, to minimize damage to the area, but the nodes hadn't been pulled. It was as if they’d been shaved off the rocky surface.
A glimmer on one screen drew Mills attention. The fleas falling down C11 had seen a glimmer of thermal emission. Faint, distant. He pushed the drones down, having one lay down new nodes so they could keep up their broadcast.
Down, down. The craggy tunnel became a column going straight down. 30 meters in diameter, with a faint undulation to the rock. Regular. Like it was undergoing a slow stone peristalsis. He was closer to the heat signature. The cameras cut out.
"No, what? No!" Mills slammed a palm into his desk. "Come back. You were at double bandwidth cap. Double! Come on."
He flipped switches and the central broadcast nodule at the top of the Rift pumped more power into the mesh.
One screen flickered on.
The walls were covered in a smooth heat source. It flowed. Mills tried to move the drone closer to it but the prop didn't respond. Rear cam showed it was wrapped in heat.
In front, a section of the shaft bubbled, one large swell. It unfurled, slowly, like a linen sheets underwater, sinking. Edges drifting lazily, one layer moved out of the way and another drifted upwards. So many layers. Something under them, jerking, rolling. The temperature was rising. Water began to boil around the drone.
Alarms flashed, but Mills couldn’t hear them, couldn’t look at them. He could only hear water boiling as he numbly hit controls to swim up and away, to flee. The drone was transfixed, like Mills, robotically staring at the diaphanous veils still drifting open before him, at the spherical thing beneath them, swiveling back and forth. The heat came from it, from a circular shape upon it. It roved about and suddenly shot around to point at Mills through the screen. A lance of heat passed over the drone. Everything went white.
Insight check => 6, ++ (to 4)
The speakers crackled around him. The drone that had seen it all - XF12 - its screen faded a hair, and he could just see the outline of a human.
"Steve?" Mills said. It was the long, lean frame. The swept-back short hair.
The figure leaned forward. Closer, closer. Steve's lips.
"I miss you."
"I... Steve. I miss you too, but this... isn't real. I'm dreaming you."
“You think you’re dreaming me?" The figure grasped the camera, Mills could see bright white teeth snarling. "He is dreaming us! We are His dreams and when He awakens -"
Insight check: 5, ++ (to 5)
Mills jerked awake, still seated in his chair. The screens were dark. He tapped a key and they hummed awake.
All the drones gone. Static flickered and hissed through speakers.
The door behind him slid open.
“Mr… Mills?” A too-familiar voice asked.
He stiffened, hunching over the controls. He flicked a toggle and the screens went black.
“I understand you’re the senior drone operator here. I need someone in-the-flesh to pilot some drones for a, ah, rescue. We might move considerably beyond the mesh network’s range."
“You’re sending people down the Rift? To... rescue the Cyclops?”
Mills licked his dry lips.
"When, ah, when do we leave?”
Bright smiled. “Tomorrow at 1000. I have some work to do. If you have any relevant telemetry from the drones, please pass it along.”
Mills nodded. Bright walked out.
He turned around and found the recorder chit under the monitor bank, backing up the drone camera feeds. What he'd seen. No, he thought, that was a dream. I fell asleep. He opened a metal desk door, stuck the chit in halfway, and slammed it shut. Again, again. Again. He cracked it against his thumb and moaned. Shards of plastic littered the drawer.
(Reduction roll: 6. No)
The whole time the blank monitors seemed to stare at him. Like the men and women in line for alcohol from his dream of catering, bored, waiting. Like the great thing in the Rift, rolling, spinning, spearing him with a ray of light.
(Miso check: Is the central networking nodule still up?
no: 3 )
It’s slagged by whatever killed the drones. It was at the top of the Rift, the lip of that dark mouth. Can’t break it to reduce Insight)
Mills emailed Bright what fragments of drone telemetry remained. She would see where they had last been, that the mesh was down, but no evidence of what he'd seen. Dreamt, he thought. Mills made his way back to Hab 4 in a daze.
Watkins had supplied Steve and Harvey with bootleg hooch, in plastic bags. High West Whiskey, something Steve picked. Steve had always loved westerns, the machismo, the hats. The lonesome figure striking out. A love that was both ironic and unironic by turns. A few DVDs were on a shelf, and Mills had put one on.
He got listlessly, confoundedly hammered. Numb, he could pretend he wasn't in pain. He lay in their cubby, sealed in, drinking and watching Unforgiven. What Steve had called one of the greatest deconstructions of the genre ever.
"I don't deserve this, to die like this. I was building a house."
"Deserve's got nothing to do with it."
Mills raised a bag of whiskey in a toast.
Reduce Roll: 4. Reduction
Harvey Mills, Insight 4, incredibly tired and hungover.